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Writers such as Petrarch (1304-1374) and Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375) looked back to ancient Greece and Rome and sought to revive the languages, values and intellectual traditions of those cultures after the long period of stagnation that had followed the fall of the Roman Empire in the sixth century.Leonardo da Vinci, the ultimate "Renaissance man," practiced all the visual arts and studied a wide range of topics, including anatomy, geology, botany, hydraulics and flight.Leonardo’s best-known works, including the “Mona Lisa” (1503-05), “The Virgin of the Rocks” (1485) and the fresco “The Last Supper” (1495-98), showcase his unparalleled ability to portray light and shadow, as well as the physical relationship between figures–humans, animals and objects alike–and the landscape around them.
Though the Catholic Church remained a major patron of the arts during the Renaissance–from popes and other prelates to convents, monasteries and other religious organizations–works of art were increasingly commissioned by civil government, courts and wealthy individuals.
Much of the art produced during the early Renaissance was commissioned by the wealthy merchant families of Florence, most notably the Medici.
From 1434 until 1492, when Lorenzo de’ Medici–known as “the Magnificent” for his strong leadership as well as his support of the arts–died, the powerful family presided over a golden age for the city of Florence.
His formidable reputation is based on relatively few completed paintings, including "Mona Lisa," "The Virgin of the Rocks" and "The Last Supper."The Florentine painter Giotto (1267?
-1337), the most famous artist of the proto-Renaissance, made enormous advances in the technique of representing the human body realistically.